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Fashion or formalities? Lawyers can do both

Appearances, just like first impressions, matter wherever you go, and nowhere more so than in the legal industry. How can you get the balance right between style and seriousness?

Law firms usually have very smart dress codes. Stand outside your average top firm in the morning and you’ll see swathes of impeccably and conservatively dressed lawyers walking through the doors. Sharp suits and ties for men; suits or blazer and trousers and knee-length skirts for women, all in classic and serious colours such as black, brown, grey or navy. 

As Melissa and Sheena, law school graduates and bloggers at ‘House Of Marbury’, a fashion blog for professional women, explain: “The legal profession is one of the most conservative fields out there — we like our traditions and formalities, especially when it comes to dress code.”

It makes sense that lawyers are often seen in serious, professional clothes that will command respect and inspire trust in the office and in court.

Yet despite the emphasis on conservative dressing, it’s still possible to express some individuality in your outfits. Some well-chosen accessories, for example, can add a personal touch to your legal uniform. Check out the excellent ‘Attorneys on Fleek’ Instagram account and blog for real-life fashspo from female lawyers; House of Marbury’s Pinterest has outfit and shopping ideas for male and female lawyers alike.

Saima, a lawyer at an international law firm, explains how she mixes fashion with formality. “I often wear coloured trousers with a white shirt, a tailored jacket and stiletoes. I wear what I would like to wear out to dinner after work; that’s when I know that my outfit is one I actually like. A big ‘no’ is too short a skirt or too much cleavage, but there are lots of cool cuts at the moment like box shirts which are quite easy to style up.”

That said, there are some law firms who have adopted more casual dress policies. CMS recently established a more casual dress code to encourage “maximum flexibility”, as a spokesperson from the firm says: “Our policy is not prescriptive in terms of what staff can and can’t wear but encourages them to use their best judgement based on their clients or commitments.”

It’s a similar story at Travers Smith, where staff were recently told that they can wear “business casual” clothes when not with clients.

Pierre, a London-based media lawyer, says: “Reluctance mostly comes from older lawyers who correlate professionalism with formal dress. But as client bases change, the fixation on dress code is waning. Mark Zuckerberg wouldn’t care what his lawyers wear, as long as they're the best in town.”

Yet for the majority, it’s power dressing as usual, with suits and tradition leading the way. Hanna, a lawyer at a tech company, says: “Lawyers may try and push the boundaries, and they should, but unfortunately they may be met with resistance… it will be a long time before we see any real change.”

So if you’re unsure what to wear, err on the conservative side. It’s better, as they say, to be overdressed than under.

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